Synopsis: Devil in the Countryside is a story about the most famous werewolf investigation in history, brimming with intrigue and war, love and betrayal, and long-kept vendettas.
It's 1588, the height of the Reformation, and a killer is terrorizing the German countryside. There are reports that the legendary Werewolf of Bedburg has returned to a once-peaceful land. Heinrich Franz, a cold and calculating investigator, is tasked with finding whomever -- or whatever -- the killer might be. He'll need all the help he can get, including that of a strange hunter who's recently stumbled into town. Though they're after the same thing, their reasons are worlds apart. And through it all, a priest tries to keep the peace among his frightened townsfolk, while a young woman threatens his most basic beliefs.
In a time when life is cheap and secrets run rampant, these four divergent souls find themselves entwined in a treacherous mystery, navigating the volatile political and religious landscape of 16th century Germany, fighting to keep their sanity -- and their lives.
Ash's Rating: 5/5
Ash Review: “Devil in the Countryside” is the sort of book I relish reviewing, combining two of my favourite genres history and crime. Saying this however, I will admit to being unsure about the historical period in which it was set; the Reformation is a period with which I am familiar but, being honest, it was never one which I was excited to read more about. In exploring why this is, I came to my strongest argument which is that books set so far back in history which rely more greatly on imagination and secondary sources, can often lack the character development and creation of empathy which drives a narrative forward for me. What drove me to read “Devil in the Countryside” was firstly that it was based on an actual historical event and secondly, most interestingly, it involved werewolves…surely this was not a novel to pass up on?
I am so glad I ignored my previous thoughts on novels set in more distant historical periods or I would not have had the chance to both learn so much about a period which I had vastly underestimated for its intrigue and would have missed the chance to discover an author who can create a bridge between the experiences of a sixteenth century German teenage girl and the modern reader.
“Devil in the Countryside” is based on an historical event during the reformation wars in Germany during which a vicious killer is on the loose in the town of Bedburg. The violent nature of the victims’ deaths has led to fears that the “Werewolf of Bedburg” has returned and a town of people, already caught up in the subterfuge, paranoia, and violence of the reformation wars, become even more fearful and suspicious as the Werewolf’s identify and motives are seized upon by the religious and political powers to create tension and fear. Barclay creates an atmosphere of fear and, ultimately, powerlessness, within which the residents of Bedburg find themselves with aplomb. It is hard to know who to trust in Bedburg and as we get to know the various purveyors of power in Bedburg, bishops and lords amongst them, it becomes increasingly difficult to know what is truth and what is masterful manipulation.
Amidst all the violence and intrigue at the centre of “Devil in the Countryside”, there are two very sincere and delicate love stories. The first, the story of Georg Sieghart and a love lost which drives him towards hate and revenge. The second story, that of Dieter and Sybil, whose love is both forbidden and dangerous. It was the authors ability to develop these characters and create echoes between their lives and ours which drove the novel forward; I found myself caring deeply about what happened to these characters who were at once both hapless victims of their place in history and simultaneously driven to risk everything for their chance at happiness.
“Devil in the Countryside” is not an easy read; it takes time to adjust to a setting so different from ours and it also took me more time to read each chapter so that I could try to understand the different narrators and their place in the history of Bedburg. “Devil in the Countryside” is however a worthwhile and really enjoyable read which rewards its reader for their time and patience by creating characters who we come to understand as victims of their place in history and who we can find commonalities with and root for. For me, “Devil in the Countryside” was a story of love; love of power, love of place, love of people and there is nothing more satisfying than a well written love story.